New SHAD Initiative Aims to Keep the Best and Brightest in New Brunswick

Front Row: Barry Bisson and SHAD Fellow, Michele Romanow with Sophie Gagnon and Phillip Soetebeer. Back Row: Karina LeBlanc, Matt DeCourcey, John McLaughlin, SHAD Board Chair David Hay, Andrea Fuenekes, Gerry Pond and Fred Bullock. (Image: Stephen MacGillivray)

FREDERICTON–Last week SHAD, a Canadian initiative that empowers exceptional high school students to realize their potential through an intensive month-long summer program, announced a new project in New Brunswick to keep these students connected with the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem in the province.

This initiative, the first of its kind for SHAD in Canada, aims to fight the “brain drain” among the province’s top youth. The project is meant to provide a lifelong support network for these young people long after their participation in the program.

With help of funding from the Government of Canada through ACOA’s Business Development Program, the Pond-Deshpande Centre has hired Nicholas Clermont as coordinator to promote the SHAD program, identify highly motivated high school students and connect them with the business community and ongoing opportunities in New Brunswick. Clermont will bring the SHAD program alumni together during the one or two years they have left in high school for programs and activities to get them stitched into the innovation ecosystem.

“What’s new about this concept is we’re going to make a concerted effort after they return home from that one month experience and for the one or two years they’re still in high school,” said SHAD president Barry Bisson.

“We’re going to educate them about the New Brunswick innovation ecosystem and all the support networks and support programs that exist and we’re also going to help them establish relationships with leaders and role models in the New Brunswick business community.”

Bisson says the hope with this program is that even if some New Brunswick students decide to leave the province to get their university education, they’ll decide to come back and build careers because of the networks they’ve built.

Phillip Soetebeer is a grade 10 student from Skiff Lake, NB, who has been accepted into the 2016 SHAD program. He says he was attracted to the program because it seemed like a good way to challenge himself. Soetebeer has also been set up with an internship with McCain Food Labs through SHAD. He hopes to become a particle physicist later in life.

“I think it’s a great idea to try and connect the people attending SHAD with the New Brunswick business community,” Soetebeer said. “If someone were to decide to start a business or perhaps join a company, it’s not always just what you know, it’s who you know as well.”

New Brunswick was chosen to test this new initiative because of Bisson’s close ties to the community in the province and because of the maturity of the innovation ecosystem here.

“There’s a very mature network of nodes that are extremely relevant to what we’re trying to accomplish so we felt that would be a great way to pilot this concept. We do already have interest in some other provinces in copying the New Brunswick model so we’re very hopeful that this is going to turn into something way beyond our current expectations,” Bisson said.

Sophie Gagnon is a grade 11 student at École Sainte-Anne in Fredericton and will be participating in the SHAD program this year at McMaster University.

“This is a program that’s mainly focused on science, technology, engineering and math and I love that kind of stuff, that’s what I want to do when I grow up and it’s stuff that interests me so much to discover and learn about,” Gagnon said. “When I heard that it’s basically a month where I can learn but don’t have to deal with grades and school and I can just learn because I want to learn, that was something that was so amazing to hear and I immediately wanted that chance.”

Bisson says the new project will address two major problems in New Brunswick: the false assumption that because someone is smart, they are guaranteed success, and the fact that many of the best and brightest young people in New Brunswick leave and don’t come back.

“A lot of these young people say there’s no reason to come back here. We’re going to try and give them a reason,” Bisson said. “I think we’re onto something quite significant.”